Raj Thackeray has a way with words, he should focus on them
Raj should give serious thought to focussing more on words rather than on sticks and stones to break people’s bonesmumbai Updated: Mar 20, 2018 18:12 IST
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president Raj Thackeray was recently described to me by my Maharashtrian neighbour as “nalla”. I was surprised because it is a very north Indian term for a jobless individual, interfering in everybody’s business but his own. My neighbour had seen his widely televised interview with NCP president Sharad Pawar and was not impressed with the political significance of the event. If he is the leader of a political party why does he have time to publicly cavort with rival politicians, rather than focus on his own party, she asked. I did not bother to explain to her that Pawar was no mere rival and that indeed Raj was no match to Pawar either at that interview or otherwise. Or that the interview had been a momentous event in Indian politics and actually raised Raj’s stature several notches.
But when his workers broke down Gujarati sign boards in the far suburbs, with Gujarati neighbours her good friends, she told me rather tartly, “What did I tell you? He has nothing better to do!”
So if a Maharashtrian voter is not impressed by the things he does in the name of Marathi asmita, who does he do it for, I wonder. The last time his men tried to interfere in civic issues, they were thoroughly beaten up by the hawkers they were fingering. Now the Jain community of Bombay has written an open letter to him pointing out how they do much for not just their own community but also others in terms of institutionalised charitable acts and have challenged him to match their contributions to society. They have, unfortunately for him, also busted the violation of several laws by him in his building activities and demanded to know why he thinks he is more privileged than others engaged in similar activities and hopes to get away with the same.
Obviously, the political ground is slipping from underneath his feet — though I thought he had lost it long ago — if both Maharashtrians and Gujaratis can openly deride him thus and MNS workers can be turned upon and given a taste of their own medicine.
What those who deride him cannot be expected to understand, however, is that Raj does have a sharp understanding of the political ironies of the times. Of late, he has been drawing some excellent cartoons that can be labelled as among the best in the class. I particularly liked two — one in which he subtly hit out at the hypocrisy of his cousin Uddhav Thackeray who was depicted as saying Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu was a fool to walk out of the NDA when he could have taken lessons from the Shiv Sena and hung on while at the same time kicking the government at every opportunity possible. But the other one on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s ludicrous comment on the Indian Army was even more biting and sharper. Done in Marindi (mixture of Marathi and Hindi), it was truly witty as well as scathing of the RSS punching above its weight.
So I would say spotting political Pharisees and dissemblers is where Raj Thackeray’s talents really lie and he should focus more on words than on actions like beating up people or breaking their sign boards. At this point of time I would also say he is the only other person in India, apart from Narendra Modi, with mesmerising oratorical skills — he put that to good use in his new year’s Gudi Padwa message to his party workers. We have to fight a third war of Independence in the coming elections, he said and turned Modi’s own words about a Congress-mukt Bharat on him by asking people to get rid of the BJP at the next elections. Suddenly, Raj was in the liberal space along with large sections of public intellectuals who have been frothing over issues like cow vigilantism, destruction of institutional safeguards in the country, the undue targeting of Muslim minorities and Dalits, demonetisation, banking scams, etc. But would any of them have thought to describe their efforts to restore India to its former peaceful and non-violent character as the ‘Third War of Independence’? Or even, opposed to Modi as they are, turned Modi’s own words upon him?
So while it is sad that the larger Hindi/English speaking public misses the fine satire in his cartoons, Raj, who has been cavorting often with Pawar of late, should give serious thought to focussing more on words rather than on sticks and stones to break people’s bones. The Shiv Sena is already representative of the Marathi manoos in the narrowest of terms. Like my Maharashtrian neighbour, not every last Maharashtrian dislikes Gujaratis or north Indians. There is a large liberal space among them up for the grabs. It could be Raj’s for the taking. Can he step up to the plate, however?